The most compelling reason to buy a good handheld vacuum is because it can reach places that bigger vacuums can't, like the interior of a car or those hard to reach places in the home.
Handheld vacuums are also convenient for quick cleanups around the house because they're battery-powered and compact enough to sit on a shelf somewhere.
How we came to our solutions
We've researched many models, searching for a handheld vacuum that made tidying small messes, or messes where a regular vacuum couldn't easily reach as easy as possible. So we decided to look for the following criteria:
- An 18-volt battery or greater. As 18 volts is a good baseline for decent suction.
- A lithium or lithium-ion battery.
- Attachments or at least extensions for easy cleaning of tricky materials and hard-to-reach areas.
- Strong user ratings of at least four out of five stars on average.
- Battery life and recharge time.
I tested the contenders around the house for a few weeks, mainly for everyday tasks like picking up random tufts of dog hair, cleaning crumbs off countertops or the kitchen floor, and tidying my car—most of the typical uses for handheld vacuums, in other words—to get a feel for the real-world pluses and minuses.
I also set up an informal test to gauge suction. I poured out lines of emptied tea bags on a table, used each finalist to suck up one line each, and then made notes on how easily each model faired.
The Black+Decker Max Lithium Flex Vacuum BDH2020FL £69.99 at Amazon is our favourite handheld vacuum because the flexible 4-foot hose and clip-on attachments help it reach and clean awkward spots around your home and car much more thoroughly than other models. The suction is strong enough to handle most common types of mess. It has a 16-minute, no-fade run time, which should be enough to give most cars a thorough tidy-up, and its 20-volt battery offers plenty of suction for most household jobs.
The Max Flex Vac's hose accepts attachments and comes with three tools: A combo tool, a crevice tool, and a pet-hair brush. The combo tool has bristles that can help grab clingy particles. The crevice tool is helpful as a wand extender, but it also makes it easier to get in tight nooks and crannies. If you have a pet, the pet-hair brush is indispensable. It's nothing complicated, just a rubbery surface with nubs, but it does help corral fuzz in a way that most handhelds struggle with. Once you have finished cleaning, the Max Flex Vac's dirt canister is easy to empty: Pull a latch on the side of the vacuum's body, tip it toward the garbage can, give it a big tap, and that's it.
Of course, the Max Flex Vac isn't prefect. It's not cheap, and is a lot for a handheld vacuum, but we think that the Flex Vac's versatility and solid suction make it worth the price for people who will use it regularly. We also noticed the filter gets dirty very quickly, which can cause drop-offs in suction as quickly as two battery cycles. This is a common problem with most handheld vacuums, so it pays to keep an eye on it.
A very similar runner-up
The Black+Decker Max Flex Vac BDH2020FLFH is the same vacuum, with the same useful clip-on attachments, plus an extension wand and floor tool to turn it into an ersatz stick vacuum. Though the floor-cleaning kit sounds like a good value, it's actually hopeless, because the suction becomes too weak by the time it reaches the end of the extension wand to be useful at all.
The best budget choice for quick cleanups
If you need a regular DustBuster-style handheld for quick cleanups, buy the Black+Decker CHV1410L £45 at Amazon. It's a consistent best-seller, and one of the most affordable vacuums with a strong lithium battery. In our testing, the CHV1410L easily sucked up crumbs and dirt off surfaces such as countertops, tile floors, and windowsills. Though the 16-volt battery is smaller than our top pick's battery, we found the CHV1410L was about as effective for small cleanups. The battery had a 12-minute run time in our tests.
The main downside is that the CHV1410L can't clean carpet or upholstery effectively. Debris clings to fabric, and the CHV1410L has neither the suction to offset the clinging, nor any tool that can agitate debris out from the fibres. Because the CHV1410L lacks a hose, cleaning the kinds of odd angles that our main pick excels at is not easy.
The most cleaning power
If you're willing to pay for the strongest handheld vacuum possible, get the Dyson V6 Car + Boat at £188 at Amazon. It has much more suction by a wide margin than any other handheld vacuum we've tested, including our top choice. It also has more battery life than its competitors, with a run time of 20 minutes. Several V6 variants are available, but we think that the Car + Boat has the best set of attachments. The V6 Car + Boat costs much more, but no other handheld vacuums comes close to its power and versatility, prompting the old adage 'you get what you pay for'.
The Car + Boat comes with a flexible extension hose similar to our top pick, crevice tool, combo brush, stiff-bristle brush, soft-dusting brush, and a mini motorised brush roll. The mini brush roll is especially useful because it lets the V6 pick up the kind of clingy debris that every other handheld just couldn't do as effectively.